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Becky and Jim Mizener

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Packed with Pride
January 12, 2006

Our son Jesse was deployed for Iraq just six weeks after being assigned to Ft. Lewis Washington. With tears in our eyes we sat in the van saying our final goodbye. There were wives and families huddled together getting one last hug in before their soldier left.

As his wife, sister, two daughters and I sat in the van saying our good byes, I couldn't help but feel anxious. There was also a sense of excitement. He was going to Iraq to protect our country and our freedom.

I was excited about the thought of sending him things he might need while over seas. I had a box ready to mail as soon as he gave us his address.

So it began, sending music CD's and videos of his favorite TV shows, letters, magazines, candy, pictures, and cookies. There were boxes of goodies going out every week. Jesse, having a big heart and thinking of others, asked me to send packages to his buddies. Before I knew it I was mailing off boxes for 17 soldiers, including our son.
 

Jesse's day of deployment to Iraq

Jesse with two of his children Jesse came home from Iraq for two weeks of R & R and to witness the birth of his son in November of 2003. Those days flew by as we all enjoyed visiting with him and the new baby.

Sadly, it was time for him to go back to Iraq. As my husband Jim said, "It was the bravest thing I've ever seen as he walked up those airport stairs to go back into harm's way". Once again we were sending off packages knowing he would be home in 3 short months.

January 7, 2004 our phone rang at 2:20a.m. Our daughter in-law was hysterical on the other end saying, "He's dead, Jesse is dead! The Army was just here and Jesse' dead."

The weeks that followed we lived in such a fog of sadness and disbelief. Our 23-year-old, healthy, handsome son was gone. He left a young wife Nicole, three-year-old Gia, two-year-old Eve and infant son, Jesse Alexander. He left an older brother Brian and younger sister Jennie.

There were so many phone calls from his friends and family. One call that impressed us was the call we got at three o'clock in the afternoon our time and 2 o'clock in the morning Iraq time. It was his Commander calling to give his condolences. He said he knew Jesse and saw him that morning.

We told him how we supported what they were doing and how proud we were of Jesse. We spoke about how proud he was to be a soldier and that he believed in what he was doing. He was there to do his best as a soldier and to fight against terrorism. We asked the Commander if the soldiers knew of the support from the people of the United States. His reply, "Sadly, no, they watch the same news we do . . . and it is not encouraging".

After the fog of sorrow had lifted a bit, I thought it was time to get back to normal. I began to pack boxes for Jesse's unit when I realized they were all coming home in a few weeks. I not only lost my son but I was no longer connected to the military. I wasn't a soldier's mom any more.

We were fortunate to meet with Jesse' unit when they got back to Ft. Lewis. It was good to finally put a face with a name. I felt as if I had known them for a long time. These were soldiers to whom I had been writing, and sending boxes of goodies.

We got to share stories about Jesse, laughed and cried together. It was a healing time for those who lived and fought with Jesse. We wanted them to know that Jesse's family would be all right and we were going to continue to support them. We got to thank them for their friendship with our son.

Not long after I began to sink deep into depression. My husband Jim told me to find a soldier, any soldier to write and mail packages to. That's just what I did, I found one soldier on line.

Not long after . . . our good friend Chris was deployed to Kuwait. He became my second soldier. I asked him if he had any friends that would like me to write to them and, so it began, again.
We decided to start a project in which we send packages and letter to deployed soldiers. What should we call it? Thinking of a name became the topic at work! We decided on Packed with Pride because I pack each box with the pride of a soldier's mom . . . Each new soldier gets a "Welcome to the Packed with Pride family" packet. The welcome letter explains who we are and how our project got started. It explains that we do this to show our support for our troops. The most important part of this letter is where it states that you the soldier are under no obligation to Packed with Pride, except to enjoy the goodies. They don't have to be my pen pal or even write a thank you note. Some write back, some keep in touch via e-mail and some return the questionnaire.  Packed with Pride
The second page of the packet is our Packed with Pride questionnaire. What we are trying to do is find out a little more about each soldier so we can personalize his or her box. Some of the questions are what is your favorite snack, what do you do on your down time? Do you have access to a VCR or DVD player? If they like sports, we send them a sports magazine, country music, we'd send a county music CD.

We also include three postcards that briefly explain our project and space for new names and addresses of their friends who may want to be on our list. That's where we get our list from, word of mouth from one soldier to another.

My heart is for those soldiers who are not receiving mail on a regular basis. There is always a note of encouragement in every box.

As the word got out about Packed with Pride, more people have made contact with us to give us the names and addresses of their loved ones who are serving overseas. We are happy to see a box come back "return to sender", that means our soldier is back stateside. That's a good feeling.

This project could not have gotten this far with out the help and support of so many people. My friends not only supported us through the death of our son, but also supported the idea for the project. Our church family at Twin Oaks Community Church has been a huge part of this project. The community of Stockton has been very supportive. Karl Ross Post 16 American Legion and Raleys Supermarket have taken on the challenge to help support our project.

One afternoon I received a phone call from the producer of Dayside with Linda Vester from New York. It's a news program on the Fox network. I got to do a 4-minute spot on National TV. It was very exciting. From that broadcast we received many letters and e-mails of people who wanted to help with our project. It was truly a blessing and we are still to this day getting letters from all over the country.

One of the questions Linda asked me on air was . . . did I get a response from the soldiers. My answer was yes; the letters I've received are so tender and loving. When I read them, it makes standing in line at the post office well worth it!

This whole project has been in Gods hands since it began. When we were running out of postage money, we'd get a check in the mail from someone who just wanted to help. From our webmaster (my brother), lawyer, and printer . . . every one wants to do what they can to help. We found that most people support the soldiers . . . they just don't know how to show it. We have given them that opportunity.

The first year we were learning how to manage our project, our money, and our time. I had never spoken in public or even imagined I'd be on national television. We had an opportunity to speak privately and pray with President Bush.

I have been fortunate enough to speak at Rotary Clubs and Kiwanis Clubs. From that we are getting in touch with many more resources. We have learned to deal with the challenges as they come along. God has provided for us so far . . . and we believe He will continue to bless this project.

Our project began in March of 2004 with one soldier. As time went on two soldiers became ten, twenty and fifty. Currently we are shipping over 400 boxes a month from our garage. It is a challenge but well worth the time and effort.
Packed with Pride collage of efforts Our plan is to send as many packages as we can as often as we can for as many soldiers as we can. Through donations for postage we are able to continue to send our support and love through a box of goodies and necessities to our men and women who serve . . . We use the term soldier, but the fact is we have those serving in the Army, Air Force, Navy and Marines.

Each soldier gets two boxes. One package has toiletries and the other has food goodies. We make sure they have real food like tuna, cup of noodles, beef jerky along with the fun junk food. We pack cookies, candy, crackers, nuts and more treats they can't get over there. It has been and will continue to be our pleasure to . . . Pack with Pride.
I wanted you to know about us, because we want everyone to know how proud we are of our son and those who serve in the United States Military.

Update To Story

February, 19, 2007... We now have over 1000 names on our list that we are shipping to from our garage. We are looking for space to relocate because we are out growing our little garage.  Jesse's wife and children are living with us for a while until they can relocate from Virginia . . .  We live in California, so we are happy about that move.

By Becky and Jim Mizener
Packed with Pride
Copyright 2004

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